Published on March 9th, 2014 | by Chris Campbell


Make Your Escape.

We don’t want tedious days. We want our days animated by the unexpected; we want to witness mysteries slowly becoming known. Yet many of us trudge through monotone workweeks chasing dangling-carrot weekends. Ji Lee, artist and creative strategist for Facebook (past creative director for Google) has set himself free from the humdrum hamster wheel. How’d he do it? Doing fun personal projects.

google_circle_logoJi Lee’s logo design for Macworld 2009.

CC: Your career began at an ad agency in NYC. You grew bored with the work you were producing. Ideas you thought to be engaging were considered risky, and were heavily sterilized before seeing the light of day. You were frustrated. But, instead of burning out you shifted your focus to personal projects. This proved to be your big break. Instead of feeling disheartened you invented a different path for yourself. What advice do you have for others regarding how to invest mental energy in conceiving solutions rather than feeling negative emotions?

JL: When I feel depressed or bad about myself I try to focus on making things. When I start making, I feel instantly better. Then I share what I created with my friends in real life, and also on social networks. It feels nice to receive positive feedback. My advice is to focus on making things because with personal projects you have 100% control of what you want to express to the world. When you make authentic personal projects good things happen.

One of Lee’s coolest personal projects are parallel worlds he adheres to ceilings:

desk_googleR2D2_Rhino_detail“People fill the floor of their homes with furniture and walls with paintings and pictures. So why are the ceilings left empty? Decorating ceilings was a celebrated art form in the past centuries that somehow got lost through the reductionism of modernism. People don’t look at the ceiling anymore. It’s a dead space. So I wanted to bring a small wink to this space. I also liked the idea that somehow there’s a parallel world which coexists with ours,” states Lee.

(Lee’s make-stuff strategy first began with his Bubble Project, in which he secretly subverted the very adverts he’d been creating during the day. Lee printed thousands of blank speech-bubble stickers and placed them on ads. The project spread like wildfire across the globe. The project resulted in an incredible amount of dull corporate monologues being transformed into open public dialogues.)

3108342440_cd4003d32c_bI-Robot“More Bubbles mean more freed spaces, more sharing of personal thoughts, more reactions to current events, and most importantly, more imagination and fun,” says Ji Lee.

01.Ji_as_worm_med “When the Bubble Project became really huge and well-known and millions of people around the world started paying attention, I realised I could come up with an idea for a project, produce the project and spread the project – and I could do it all without the help of big institutions. Before, I thought that was the only way to produce an idea that would spread around the world. That project made me realise I can do it without the help of big money and big corporations. That, for me, was extremely empowering and liberating; that I have the means and the tools to create a meaningful project that can touch people around the world,” Ji Lee said in an interview with Creative Bloq.3108310670_a697d1de02_b

CC: You believe ideas are nothing, and doing is everything. You’ve also revealed how momentum is hugely important…and that once lost, it’s very hard to pick an idea back up. Why do you think ideas are so slippery?

JL: When you have an idea you feel great about the best thing is just to make it. Because if you take too much time you over analyze it. You start questioning things, and then you feel deflated and you start losing interest in your idea. There’s an immense pleasure that comes from making things, and an even greater pleasure when you ship it. You feel a sense of accomplishment. So the important thing is to make and ship things often; great things happen when you keep doing this. Done is better than perfect.

galaxyAn illustration of Lee’s rejected by the New York Times. Jesus and Constitution, another of Lee’s images rejected by the Times. But, it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to make and ship and as a result a huge amount of his work has been published, proliferated and enjoyed all over the globe. Check out more of his editorial art here.

CC: It seems as though the interior of your brain is a playground-laboratory hybrid. Is this close to the truth? And if so, how have you reconciled your ardent curiosity with the discipline it takes to translate electricity into the brain into fruition/reality?

JL: Everything in life is a choice. One choses to see the reality in any way he or she wants. I can see my daily subway commute as a boring hassle, or I can chose to see it as an opportunity to turn the commute into a fun experience. I like observing people, and imagining what I can do to make things a little interesting for me and for them. I start to have ideas. What if I placed clown nose stickers on top of subway ads? What if I left a small piece of sculpture as a gift for a stranger? How can I make someone smile? Then my everyday subway ride becomes a creative adventure and fun.

CC: You think about the world in a fun way, slicing and dicing things up with a sense of informed play, even when your work deals with dark themes in your editorial art. It seems as if you believe things have two sides: a good side and a not-so-bad side. Is this accurate? 

JL: I choose to see everything from a positive perspective. If I chose to see the world as fun place then my life will be fun. If I chose to see it as a miserable place, my life will be miserable. It’s a simple choice.

untitled Image Lee made for The New York Times, Sunday Book Review / Article by Farhad Manjoo / Art Direction: Nicholas Blechman.

Lee is also a word wizard, tweaking their appearances to entrancingly convey meaning.

exitchristianitytsunamiSee more of Lee’s wordplay here.

Make Your Escape.

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About the Author

I live on an island floating in the Puget Sound, a stone's throw from downtown Seattle. I am keenly interested in nature, mysticism, the cosmos, futurism, existentialism, nihilism, kitsch, satire, and miscellaneous whimsy.

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